The Government’s bill for management consultants hired for COVID-19 related projects emerged recently in a meeting of the public accounts committee. £175 million has so far been spent on these advisors. And they generally do just that – advise on a strategy and in some cases, how to implement it. Some have been charging eye-watering project and day rates, with Boston Consulting Group reportedly charging over £7,000 per day for each consultant.
There’s a time and place for management consultants. But once leaders have had all the advice, the day always comes to deliver. This is not really what management consultants do. They can be highly effective in producing analysis, ideas, strategies, with access to years of data and libraries of what’s worked in the past. Use consultants when you either don’t know what to do or need confirmation of your plan of action. But what about the reality? Each organisation is different and managing change is not about just about referring to vast libraries of what’s worked elsewhere. Human beings with their experienced judgement must implement it, so that benefits are sustainable and reflect the cost of the advice.
Sense-checking a plan – providing a reality check – and implementation should fall to experienced, proven interim executives. This is what they do. They are totally unfazed by walking into any change and transition environment.
What do they know of our business, I hear you ask? The benefit of bringing in a proven interim executive is that they are unfazed by ambiguity. Many work in a completely different organisation each year – every time they take on a new assignment. They’ve managed most change situations first hand and will know instinctively what to do next wherever they go. They’ve seen all the strategies produced by management consultants, but in the words of one of the most experienced interims in the UK, they are there to take ownership, provide leadership, get a result and then handover to permanent employees.
The Department of Health was recently asked by David Davis, MP, “…what performance targets were in place for delivery of track-and-trace?”, “None” came the answer, “Unenforceable…,” they said. What rot. Value versus cost should be the determinant of deciding to bring in outside help. The UK’s best interim executives have always been well along the value curve relative to their daily cost. They will either charge by the day or the assignment and can build in bonuses against targets if needed. Most agree short notice periods – this is deliberate because the goal of an interim is to exit as soon as the assignment is successfully completed. Not a moment longer, and no lingering in the background looking for more work. There are monthly reviews on progress and best of all, they pass on all their knowledge so that internal employees can manage on their own as soon as possible.
The motivations of interim executives are vastly different to advisors and management consultants. With no interest in maintaining a long-term revenue stream from their current client, they charge for the work, deliver it, enhance their reputation and move on to the next challenge.
Interim executives have been brought in to deliver and even rescue major programmes in the UK, including for the Government. One leading interim programme director I spoke to this week is used to managing the ambiguity between a strategy and actually making it happen. With no incentives for selling more work, just on delivering her brief, she got a failing high-profile infrastructure programme over the line just in time for the Olympics.
Few in number, these proven interims like ‘impossibles’ to fix. Failing programmes, big goals, short term impact roles. Usually around one-year engagements involving cultural change, building capability, making the complicated simple, with a clear entry and exit to the programme. They build informal ‘change networks’ with internal employees, galvanising people around delivery and importantly, leave capability and skills in place – so they can leave. There’s no attempt to outstay their welcome and sell their colleagues in for £7,000 per day.
Having been advised what to do next, organisations across the UK must now make it happen. It’s time the Government and other organisations stopped over-paying for being told what I suspect they know already. There always comes a point in change programmes when you need to bring in the people who’ll roll up their sleeves and deliver it.